I won't be able to do one of my favorite experiences in Thailand this trip (other exciting things planned!), but I thought I'd share it with you since I went just last July.
In Kanchanaburi, a place about 2 hours outside Bangkok, there is a Buddhist temple that has taken in ophaned tiger cubs--sometimes the mother has been shot by poachers, sometimes they're found wandering. The monks started by taking in one cub, but as things usually happen, once word got out that they would take orphans, villagers started to bring them in.
Now they have upwards of 20 full grown and babies and have even started careful breeding of this endangered animal. To help pay for the enormous costs of feeding these 3-400 pounders, they allow tourists to come and visit--and even touch. This takes place in a small canyon that is mostly shaded for the tigers' benefit.
Well, as you can imagine, it was number one priority for me when Fred and I came to visit my brother last summer. For a little extra, you can have your picture taken with a tiger head in your lap. (Seriously? Can you imagine saying "that's too much money. I'll just pass"? It's once in a lifetime!)
I got my picture taken with several tigers, feeling their thick coats and holding their enormous heads. Then we moved over to the cub area, where things are less controlled. Lots of pictures there, too. There's also a swimming area for the tigers--who love the water.
A note for some of you who are getting jealous (as you should): they take volunteers! You can come and work with, feed, and groom the tigers. What an experience that would be. From what I've read of volunteer experiences there, it's fabulous.
Why can people do this without ending up as a tiger dinner? Well, first of all, tigers are nocturnal, so when people are visiting them, they're sleepy and hot. Second, they are well fed--mostly chicken with added nutrients for health. Finally, they've been raised from cubs by the monks and so are very used to people. Just like at Harnas, they don't see humans as food--instead they see them as providers of food.
And so my list of Big Wild Cats that I've been able to touch has grown to one more: lions, leopards, cheetahs, caracals, and now tigers. But there are so many more--and so little time.